Enfolding Plane 4

Enfolding Plane 4 - Synchronization for 6 Improvisers, WFS system, and Live Electronics #

Ji Youn Kang

Premiered on 27.Nov.2023 at Muzikfabrik Studio in Cologne, Germany by Ensemble Muzikfabrik and the Game of Life WFS system.

Program note #

‘Enfolding Plane’ is a series of electro-acoustic music pieces that are composed for the WFS system. The ‘Enfolding Plane IV’ is written based on the synchronisation phenomenon in nature, for example clocks start synchronising with each other when they are physically attached together. In this piece, I used the Kuramoto model, a mathematical model, which enables oscillating bodies to be coupled and start synchronising with each other from which temporal patterns emerge between them. In this piece, every instrument is regarded as an oscillating object together with oscillators produced by a computer. The couplings between them vary from section to section as well as how quickly they are adapting to each other. An ensemble can also be thought of as an synchronising system itself because instrumentalists have naturally learned to synchronise with each other in various manners. Synchronisation in the piece means largely of frequencies, but its range is musically extended to what it means to create an harmony.

Score #

Recording #

Keywords #

  • a dynamical system (between oscillating objects)
  • coupling
  • telos
  • the meaning of ensemble

on Synchronization #

This project is a collaborative one between Ensemble Musikfabrik, and the Game of Life foundation with the Wave Field Synthesis system of which I am one of the board members. The project is coordinated by Marco Blaauw, a trumpet player from the Netherlands and is a member of Ensemble Musikfabrik. We met in February 2023 at a concert of our first collaboration, which was quite successful. Then Marco wanted to have us back to Cologne again, and we organized this small festival ‘Wavespace.’ Marco also gave me an opportunity to write for the ensemble, together with the WFS system and live electronics. This was April 2023, when we talked about the programs, and it was also the moment I was working on Synchronization with David and his Kuramoto equation. When we were in Graz in April, we had our first lecture performance, and David and Luc presented an installation. This was part of their previous research ‘Contingency and Synchronization’ with 6 loudspeakers, 6 microphones in front of each speaker, each of which behaves according to the sound in the hall. Basically each channel is an output of a synchronizing unit coupled with each other, and with any incoming signal in the hall. This has a unique sound qualities and behaviour which were sounding strongly organic, and at the same time ’lively’ as it keeps modifying itself according to the behaviour of others. Yet clear links between channels and sounds in the hall were revealing. When I got this commission, and thought about this sound installation, I wanted to give the ‘role of speakers,’ which were coupled with each other, into the musicians. The degree of couplings however would differ from the one of the installation, as they are not computers. I thought it is actually quite simple to apply the concept of the degree of coupling, because it would be very much depending on what they are ’listening’ at the moment. I also wanted the piece to be partly controlled by pre-composed ideas and partly improvised, and accordingly organically generated by musicians’ improvisations. Many questions arose when thinking about approaching to this idea. Among many, there are some of my research questions:

  • Would I be able to experience any type of contingency?
  • Would there be an organic behavior emerging from the whole?
  • Would musicians be able to synchronize as another synchronizing unit?
  • What would be the role of spatialization with the WFS system?
  • Would it be an idea that is also spatially meaningful?

Computer generates oscillators, the number of which vary from part to part. This oscillator is created with Hopf oscillator, which as Kuramoto oscillaro enables to synchronize its oscillating frequency with incoming signals. I used ‘Blips’ Ugen in SuperCollider to synchronize the phase, and an oscillator has its ’twins’ that is being recreated by an own feedback, yet with a slightly different coupling value. This means that there are always two oscillators, and they are never perfectly synchronizing.

When I was making plans for the piece, I tried to answer to four different aspects:

  • What is necessary to happen?
  • What is telos (a direction that drives its behavior towards a very specific form or pattern.)?
  • What is contingency (accidental events, emergences)?

Part1 (1 oscillator unit vs 6 instruments) #

The first part has one unit (a twins) which synchronizes 6 instruments sounding in turn. It is a part that is ‘hard-linked.’ Meaning that every unit (oscillators and performers)

  • between the ensemble and an oscillator (a coupled unit)

    • necessity : the entire ensemble is treated as ‘one unit’ keeping a note in turn.
    • telos : there is no coupling. A direction is generated by the behaviour of the computer ‘unit (oscillator)’ that is coupled with itself (the twins) and with any incoming signals (the instruments).
    • contingency : errors might be unavoidably created which will eventually decide how the music will flow. Possible errors are mostly by performers as their pitched sounds will be depending on what they are hearing, and some instruments might be hard to find or play the exact note.
  • Spatilization The WFS system will put the instruments’ sound around where they are standing. Then the two oscillator will start their positions in the middle of the hall. The oscillators are synchronizing their frequencies with each instrument in turn, their location will simply be approaching to where the incoming sound comes from. It is ‘chasing.’

Part2 (two units vs two groups) #

Now in Part 2, 6 instruments are divided into two groups. Also there are two oscillating units from computer, each of which is coupled to each group. Now the situation is slightly more complicated.

  • between two groups and two oscillators

    • necessity : the ensemble continues with what they were doing, but they now have to follow only the members of their group as well as an oscillator of their own. A possible problem that is anticipated is that they might not be able to recognize which oscillator is theirs. Then they are allowed to follow whichever they are hearing. Accordingly there is deviation, contingency expected.
    • telos : a designed creation of certain ‘jumps’ is created between coupled units.
    • contingency : contingency is not only created by instruments but also by varying coupling values of oscillators. Their frequencies are also getting further away from the frequencies of instruments which generate percussive gestures. Accordingly it becomes more difficult yet created for the musicians to decide what sound they must create.
  • Spatialization The WFS system has a similar role as the Part1, which is chasing its own group sound. Now there are two unites (4 oscillators) in the space, and each unit will choose one of three other points. Accordingly there is a regularity, yet is hard to be recognized.

Part3 (only instruments) #

In Part3 I wanted to remove computer units and to leave only instruments. This is to consider them as one unit (before a number of units jumping into the space.) Then they are also free from creating pitched sound, and encouraged to create sounds that are rather percussive or gestural. Nevertheless they must listen to the rest of instruments, trying to synchronize with their own chosen sound. A slight restriction is also given, which is the level of their sounds: they are asked to play soft, but they are heard loudly as they are amplified.

  • between instruments

    • necessity : ensemble is regarded as a giant sync unit.
    • telos : they make an ‘ensemble.’
    • contingency : they are free to make ‘errors’ as coupling variables.
  • Spatilization Also their spatial behaviour is free and moving depending on the loudness of the incoming signal. If the sound is too soft, the location does not vary, and is static. Because they are asked to play softly yet they know that their sounds can only move when they play a bit loud, this created somewhat interesting sonic results. The quiet, subtle sounds started showing off their ‘volume.’ It is strange to explain with words, but regardless, subtle, but sturdy.

Part4(6 units and 6 instruments) #

Now Part 4 is a pull of units where total 12 units fluctuating. After part 3 where each instrument starts having its own spatial movement, it continues in Part 4. At the same time the computer units are still trying to follow their coupled units. In this way they are not entirely random, and sometimes create a mass movement. Their coupled value is high, meaning that they are highly deviated, until almost the last moment where they are all creating glissandi together. Meaning that their frequencies are strongly synchronized, yet they can deviate.

  • between instruments and 6 units

    • necessity : the ensemble, similar to part 2, is coupled with a chosen oscillator at a time, although it is quite difficult for them to recognize their coupled unit. This is again a deliberate choice in order to create more contingent behaviours.
    • telos : interactive pattern planes are generated
    • contingency : Alongside of some relation heard from the synchronization, an ‘organized chaos’ can be created.
  • Spatialization As mentioned above, their spatial behaviours and speed are depending on the inputs of instruments, and the coupled computer units are constantly chasing their partner. This is a chaotic, mass movement.

Reflection #

The challenge was actually the fact that I didn’t have a chance to try out with the entire setup before I was at the location. The WFS system is very challenging, and that’s why I had to chose to generate the spatial movement according to the incoming sounds, instead of pre-design trajectories. Also, I did not know how the performers would cope with such a way of playing and improvising, because it is heavily listening-oriented. One of the main challenge on location was that the performers were outside of the speaker arrays and they did not have a good listening situation. That’s probably why they were trying to synchronize more between them instead of following much of the computer oscillators. When I listened to the recording again, I found the systematic character was pretty clear. There are parts that I wished to be the way I imagined, but hey, it’s all about ‘contingency,’ the accidents that happen at the very moment, and how things evolve around. In that sense, I am happy with the result, and I hope the piece to be performed again with different instruments and a different loudspeaker setup too.